Forest reindeer husbandry

Basis for life

Reindeer herding was divided into mountain and forest herding as early as the 16th century. Unlike the mountain Sámi, the forest Sámi, who were formerly called “spruce lapps” do not move to the mountains in the spring. Their reindeer herds however do forage on different kinds of land at different times of year. Forest reindeer herding is more stationary. In early winter they return to the coniferous forests. Reindeer herds however use different types of land at different times of the year.

Forest Sámi herding was at one time carried on in the whole of northern Finland and in Sweden as far south as Ångermanland. As agriculture claimed the land, reindeer herding was increasingly forced out. Until the early 20th century, the reindeer-herding forest Sámi lived a semi-nomadic life. They had a number of goahte huts in which they lived at different times of the year. The forest Sámi goahte hut is similar in form and design to both the peat goahte hut and the låvdegoahte tent. There is a hearth in the middle of a goahte, and in the roof a small opening to let out smoke. The space between the hearth and the inner wall is the kitchen area where food, water and household items are stored.

Since the 1950s, a great deal has changed in forest Sámi reindeer herding. Alf Nordvall’s father and father’s brother taught him the traditional way to tend reindeer. In the summer, Alf tells us, they made smoke for the reindeer. They made a fire and placed moss on it. The smoke kept the mosquitoes away. The reindeer were so tame that they came to the smoke of their own accord to escape the mosquitoes.

Fire skills

There is always a good supply of firewood in the forest. A fire can serve many functions and purposes. In forestland a gap fire is a technique commonly used by people spending a winter’s night in the forest. Two dry, split logs can give light and warmth all night. The technique is both simple and functional.